instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, March 10, 2006

More good men and women

And while I'm on the subject of Dominican vocations, let's not forget the Third Order.

Third orders in general are something of a mystery, with "What do you do?" and "What's the point?" being two of the biggest questions people have. The prayer and study angles are fairly straightforward, but in the case of the Lay Fraternities of Saint Dominic, how do we handle the preaching part?

That's a question we're still asking of ourselves.

They say that, if you've met one Dominican, you've met one Dominican. There are differences between members of the same chapter, between chapters in the same province, and between provinces. With that in mind:

Lay Dominicans live out the Preaching charism in all different ways. Some do churchy things -- teach RCIA or CCD, or work directly for the Church. Others choose a personal or group apostolate; I know of one chapter that sponsors an annual winter coat drive, another that writes letters to politicians, newspapers, and so forth on the moral matters of the day.

Some Lay Dominicans have no particular activity they regard as an apostolate; instead, they go out into the marketplace, as all lay Christians are called to do, but through their formation they go out as Dominicans, offering the fruit of Dominican style contemplation (prayer (Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, Rosary, etc.) and study (particularly the thought and spirituality of the Order's great saints).

Still others serve the mission of the Order through prayer. The idea that the job of each and every Dominican is to go out and preach is both a novelty in the history of the Dominicans and (I suspect) a minority view. Preaching is the mission of the Order, of the community as a whole; it's not the aggregate of tens of thousands of individual missions.

In my chapter, we have people who serve the Province by running the Third Order bookstore (the only such bookstore in the U.S.), helping with the provincial magazine, and serving on the Provincial Council. (A word of warning: competence (or even, in my case, regular attendance) runs the risk of being elected to all sorts of offices and councils; the upside is, they all come with terms of office that do eventually expire.) One member is a DRE for a nearby parish; another is devoted to presenting the thought of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (yes, a Carmelite; the Holy Spirit blows where He wills).

As a chapter, we have sponsored various programs hosted at the parish where we meet. There is also a new initiative throughout the Province whereby each chapter is to sponsor a Bible study program; we'll be starting that up in the fall.

Do all these things really amount to preaching?

That's a subject of lively debate within the Order. There's the position that says pretty much every activity counts as preaching. There's the position that says only speaking to an audience counts. And everything in between.

My personal position is this: The charism of preaching expresses itself in many different ways. However, "preaching" properly speaking is speaking the Word to an audience that is physically present in the same room, and this preaching properly speaking is a unique and privileged means of expressing the charism, one without which the Order of Preachers ceases to be an order of preachers.

Beyond that, we don't record points or keep score. What "counts" is the salvation of souls.

Finally, anyone who's curious about the Order should be sure to ask any other Dominicans they meet or know these same sorts of questions, since they're sure to get at least a different slant, if not a diametrically opposed answer. If you've
asked one Dominican, you've asked one Dominican.